The Aussie Affair – A Review

A group in my class produced a wonderful short little documentary on the experiences and lives of a few international students, here in Melbourne. Please have a look below!

Perhaps my favorite part of this video was its visual production quality. It was a joy on the eyes to watch – at no point was a scene lit poorly, and great care was taken into the cinematography. I mention this, not to be condescending, but because I was so impressed, I could not believe this was done by amateurs for a university project! The only parts that gave it away were some aspects of editing during the interviews, where words or sounds were clipped too early. There were also some jarring edits when it came to the B-Roll ground footage, but the beautiful cinematography made up for it.

In terms of content, I was very impressed with the selection of interviewees. I enjoyed that we got to hear the story from someone from a completely different language and cultural background, and someone from a very similar background, with whom we locals wouldn’t normally notice any differences. I was pleasantly rewarded with little anecdotes about navigating the accent, or the search for the best replica of a good home-cooked meal (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist), or the fact that Melbourne cigarettes cost almost as much as a car in Indonesia! (But not really.)

(I suppose, though, if I had to be absolutely nit-picky, Yuri strange and unsolicited interpretation of an African American accent was a touch awkward. The thing is, I know Yuri, so I wasn’t even confused!)

I think that the video touched on the issues that a university  student faces very well – it’s not about a migrant family, or someone on exchange; it’s about youthful international students living here. The issues that they faced were akin to issues all youths face when in a new environment: isolation, loneliness, the cultural shock…the JET-LAG. The video focused on these aspects, rather than more mature issues like “job hunting” or “house buying”. It was refreshing to see that the problems we locals face are reflected in our international counterparts.

I use “we locals” and “them internationals” very, very casually, because the most well constructed part of the video was that it did not segregate based on the passport that the person holds. It was more about the differences in cultural habits, rather than the fact that they are from another country, or that things here are so different. At no point, watching the video, was I made to feel that these characters didn’t feel like they could proudly call themselves Australians if they were so inclined. This is an aesthetic that many, many projects that tackle the issue of nationality seem to never be able to grasp.

Great work, guys!

Alex.

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Megatron the Stinkbutt: A Digital Story

I have finally finished the digital comic that I had set out to do nearly 12 weeks ago. The following is the reflection on the process, and this post also functions as my masterpost for where everything is, for easier submission. Jenny and James, when you start reading this, please click on the prompted links below to be taken to the final products. You have a choice between two platforms, but please look at both!

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Tumblr

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Medium

As mentioned previously, I had been debating on whether to publish the comics on Tumblr, or on Medium. Then, as the wise Old El Paso said…’por que no los dos’? I was hoisted upon the shoulders of my ambitions, and I proceeded to publish on both platforms.

Platform

In my ‘Hosting Issues’ post, I talked about how Tumblr has ‘built in’ gutters, but Medium didn’t. To combat this, I had to separately upload differently edited products onto Medium in order to get the same feeling. I created one comic with gutter, and one without: ultimately I prefer the one without the gutter, for even though it doesn’t look like a traditional comic, it went well with the aesthetics of the rest of the comic, which also didn’t match traditional comic style.

Drafting

Speaking of which: I tried a rough cut of my project a few weeks ago, to which I received the feedback: Do you want your audience to know immediately that it was an edited photograph?

This was a major point of concern for me, for it was the reason that I chose to take on the project in photo form, rather than draw it. Yes, I do want the audience to know that it was a photo, because the focal point, apart from the story, is also Meg’s appearance. But I do not want it to simply BE a photo – that would look a little boring.

In the end, I opted to edit the photos with high contrast, then use a filter Poster Edges to further posterise the colors. That way, the image has a cartoon feel, without losing the aspects of the subject. Then, taking on board some advice from Jenny, I overlayed the photo with a gradient filter, creating a (dare I say) CSI Miami look.

Collaboration

I must say, working with myself has been a joy. Even though I did not hit the target dates that I strictly told myself to keep, we still came through in the end.

That was a joke – the reflection criteria mentioned collaboration for group projects, but I went solo.

I will talk about working with animals, though. I haven’t worked with a professionally trained dog before, I have worked with unprofessionally trained humans, and now that I’ve worked with an unprofessionally trained dog, I have to say: the dog is still better than people.

When it’s the dog, every mistake; every bad photo; every useless material, it’s all my fault. There is no ‘but’, the bottom line stops very quickly with me. With humans, you can always blame a lack of cooperation or communication, but with a dog, it’s literally “I didn’t plan, and now I stuffed up”. This was the case with my first photoshoot, where I didn’t bring an auto-focus lens. Meg was fantastic, she grinned, she panted, she sat, she begged – I just didn’t catch any of that in focus, because I stuffed up. So, when it was time for the 2nd photoshoot, I made sure I had every setting just right, before I even pointed the camera at the subject. As a result, the photos were much better. Plus, I learned a lesson in taking responsibility when things go awry.

Social Media

I used Tumblr and Medium for the reasons I listed in “Hosting Issues”, but my plan was to also let people know about the project through other means. I shared a Medium post onto my Twitter:

And I also shared the Tumblr posts and Medium posts to my Facebook, where the largest portion of my most likely first readers will be. (My Facebook is set on private, so there’s not much point in my linking here, but you can extrapolate from my Tweet what it would have looked and sounded like.)

I also tagged the projects on Tumblr with popular and relevant tags, such as #cute #puppy #digital comics etc. However, I believe that my active linking on social network brings more traffic than the hashtags.

Critical reflection

I feel that the end products were a mix bag of success and mediocre. The one of Meg in nature was my favorite – the dialogue was on point, and the images were engaging to look at. My least favorite was perhaps the bath-time comic, which went well in planning, but was executed poorly in terms of the lighting in the original photos. Finally, there was the issue with the online dating comic, where the 2nd image appears warped on Tumblr, but when clicked on loads perfectly. I could not fix the issue.

The most important part of the comics relied on my writing – there were times when the writing were not punchy, but as stated before, the nature comic was strong, and I felt that the treats comic had a good premise.

I’m glad that this project is finished – and I feel that some of the ideas and skills I learned in this can be used in future, similar premises. I will never stop loving and wanting to show people photos of Meg, so I will always have material!

Alex.

Designing a Website for Function

Please listen to my short podcast on designing a website for function over pure aesthetics. In this podcast, I outline and reflect on the points made by Jonathan Roper in Jenny Weight’s interview, as well as give examples of my own experiences with website design for function.

That One Time We Were Ramsay Street

My street isn’t anything like those on TV – we don’t get together every other week to do a BBQ. We don’t share a perpetually connected backyard where anyone could waltz in and have a cuppa. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even know who my neighbors are, and I’ve lived on this street for almost a decade.

The thing is, we’re not the other end of the spectrum either. Apart from some unpleasantness a few months back concerning some idiots down the street, a carton of eggs and my front porch, we all leave each other well alone. If we pass each other, we would nod, or pretend it didn’t happen. I suppose, of course, that everyone had the same thoughts I did: What will it take for the street to get together?

Then, one morning a couple weeks back, there were sirens. I crawled out of bed, in time to see billowing smoke rising from the roof of a house three doors down. A quick glance around, and sure enough, the entire street population was also billowing from their houses, rubbernecking at the site of what could very well turn out to be a massive tragedy. Some of us (myself included), started patting our hair consciously, in case TV crews turned up.

Fortunately, I guess, no one turned up but two fire trucks and a couple of police cars. Turns out (and this is just whispers passed from one lips to another) that the tenants had left something on in the kitchen, and it in turn burned half the house down. The people were all out, thankfully, so all the only hurt was on the wallet.

So, several weeks on, the chicken wire fencing is still up, and the workmen have been doing their job to fix up this house. But even as they clear away the burnt out wall, I realized that the wall between neighbors still hasn’t come down. We’d all stood there, gaping at the smoke, mutually coughing at the fumes, and acting like this was a blow on us all, but no one had asked for each other’s name. We recognize the model and make of the cars, but if we had to connect a face to those, much less a name, we’d be at a loss.

Is it even possible to be as neighborly as the houses on Ramsay Street? Is there even a point? Surely, people know when something is wrong, and will do something, right?

Except no one would notice if an elderly couple hadn’t surfaced for a few days. No one would see bruises covering someone’s arms when they go out. Aren’t these the things that neighbors should watch out for?

DSC_0405[1]

 

I could not get the permission from the builders to walk inside the location (beyond the chicken fence), and I definitely didn’t want to do something illegal like sneak in after hours.

The QR code will work perfectly with a decent scanner. I used the Barcode scanner Android app, but you Apple people out there should be able to find one just as good.

How do I drive? – I dunno, Google it!

You know that it is nearing submission time when I suddenly post boatloads, in the same way that you know something special has hit the stream of consciousness when many publications suddenly all talk about the one thing.

Two pieces of news that had flooded my RSS feeds more frequently than any other in the last two days are: Watch_Dog reviews, and this new driverless Google car that has been put properly on the table as a working prototype. Since all I seem to talk about are video games, let’s go with the latter.

So, what is it? And what does it look like?

You look like a dweeb, but you will look like one while doing nothing at all. Image courtesy of The Guardian and Google.

This piece of engineering and computing genius has enough space for two people, and reaches a top speed of 25mph, or ~40km/hr.

Basically, it’s aimed towards people who didn’t want to get anywhere in the first place.

Alright, enough skepticism. The fact is, this car really drives itself. How does it do that?

Driverless car

The Google car contains “no steering wheel, no pedals and no brakes”, and relies on a sensor mounted on top (yeah, that thing that looks like a blender) to “see” where it’s going.

It also has newer and better sensors that give it the ability to see what’s going on up to a distance of two football fields. For example, on the most current version of the retrofitted self-driving Lexus, a mounted laser has about a 12-degree field of view that it uses to essentially zoom in on details of points of interest. On the prototype car, the lasers have full 360-degree views. “It’s going from looking just in front, like a flashlight, to a lantern all around the car,” said self-driving car project director Chris Urmson.

Re/code

Of course, that explains why its top speed is so slow. Having said that, 25mph is the average safe speed for driving in most American cities, and while it’s unfeasible here on bigger and busier Australian roads, 40 km/h is probably a good speed to drive around in the suburbs. The car is also made with lots of foam and safety materials to ensure that a crash, should it ever occur, would hurt a lot less.

What’s it like in there?

I think this video sums it up perfectly.

The testers all seem very happy with their experience, although it must be noted most of them seem to treat it as a rollercoaster ride. I wonder what would happen if in real practise, the driver suddenly decides to stop at a Maccas drive-thru? Or they get a message to go pick someone else up suddenly? I suppose on-board GPS would be so good by this time that they just need to speak “let’s go to McDonalds” and the car will pick the nearest one and drive to it, but I still feel like it takes away from the spontaneity of manually driving around.

Safety

The most important issue is obviously safety. The fact that there is close to no way for a human to interrupt the machine and take over, save for an emergency stop button, can be a problem.

The controls are needed to comply with the law in California which along with Nevada and Florida allows autonomous vehicles but only if a driver can take charge.

The Guardian

And with technology such as these making their way into the mainstream use, sooner or later laws will have to reflect the changes. Perhaps jumpy technophobes will push for laws to stop complete automation. I think, maybe, the problem lies in the way we think about safety, being that we always regard it as something that we need to prevent from not happening instead of something that we act to let happen. But, that’s an issue for another debate.

The main thing is, as the project director pointed out, having a human suddenly wrench themselves into control can be even more dangerous: have you ever had someone grab your steering wheel suddenly while driving? Doesn’t end well, does it?

The cool factor

I don’t think that having a little golf cart cupcake car is going to make you look cool, but if this is the direction that vehicular travel will head, then obviously a prototype from one manufacturer won’t dictate the eventual norm. Still, imagine trying to do burn-outs in one of those babies!

The really cool part is you really can drive and not-drive, text and not-drive, etc etc. That can change the landscape of traffic laws almost entirely, since things like rear-ending and side-swiping would end up being the issue with manufacturers, not the individual driver.

“Hey, this guy was on his phone when he crashed into me!”

“Well, what do you want me to do? I did call 911 as we were crashing to get a head-start!”

Alex

The Great Console of China

Using RSS feeds is a fantastic way to get news on your favorite websites without having to actually click into the website every time. I’ve been using the RSS feed reading app Flipboard for a few months now, and I’m now also using The Old Reader.

One of the things that have been popping up lately, but not garnering front page news, is the fact that current generation video game consoles are heading over to China.

Consoles banned in China

So far, the two major players in the console war, Microsoft and Sony, have not been able to sell their gaming consoles inside mainland China. The reason, according to Kotaku:

“Consoles have been banned in China since the year 2000,” Lisa Hanson from market researcher Niko Partners tells Kotaku. “The government thought that was the best way to protect Chinese youth from wasting their minds on video games, after a parental outcry.” The following year, online gaming exploded, and the market size hit $100 million. So the ban, Hanson says, “didn’t stop the ‘problem’.”

 

Then, there’s piracy:

Sony did sell their PS2s in mainland China, but as the same Kotaku article reminded us, the pirate tendency that runs rampant in China has rendered the move a disaster.

Sony released the PlayStation 2 in China in January 2004. The launch was a disaster with rampant game piracy and of the hardware itself. While it wasn’t exactly the financial success Sony might have been hoping for, it did build a brand name for the company. Nintendo’s Wii has been copied by a Chinese company and released as the “Vii”, a game system that runs preloaded motion controlled games. Sony’s PS3 has been knocked off as “The Winner”. Pirated versions of console and PC games are prevalent.

 

10 years later…

So 10 years later, I’m reading about the consoles being optioned to sell in China again. First, the XBox One is announced late April, and just today, the PS4 is also announced to be going to the most heavily populated nation.

While on paper, it may seem like a fantastic idea, but considering that the PS2 was one of Sony’s largest console triumph, and it was still pirated to an early grave, what would be in store for the PS4?

Gaming digitally

One thing that has really changed since the disk-based PS2 days, and that is digital gaming. However, stringent DRM on digital game files still won’t guarantee that piracy wouldn’t swallow the profit margin entirely, as the current piracy market has proved that there is always a workabout around digital locks.

Possible preventions

  • Cheaper hardware and software

While this may not be fair to other markets, the fact that other, knockoff products are extremely cheap (under $100 AUD, or even less) mean that to create a competitive product, Sony and Microsoft would have to put onto the shelf an equally cheap product.

  • Exclusive content

This would have to be done concurrently with the previous point, but having exclusive content for the region (the way that Australia and New Zealand gets special ANZ editions) could be enticement to spend some extra money for the official versions. This might not work if piracy gets their hands on it, however.

  • Locking software

The last, and antagonistic suggestion, is to simply ship consoles that lock up if it detects a pirated game being played. This can be maintained through mandatory firmware updates – that is, to not allow the console to function without updating to a new firmware update – so to overcome any hacking that may occur between firmwares. This might be the least pleasant option, because it creates a distrustful atmosphere that places onus on the consumer instead of the publishers to fix a problem.

In any case, it seems that the console war is going to wage on the biggest (and most flooded) market in the world. Whether that would work out, only time would tell.

Alex.

Basic Audio Editing

When it comes to editing audio, the most important part for newcomers like me, is to know how each sound is supposed to work with each other. For example, if you are editing a scene where a person is speaking, and an ambulance drives by, it is important to know how the dialogue sounds should interact with the ambulance.

On a very beginner level, and using basic programs such as Audacity, the main things to look out for in this situation would be the volume and the direction.

If you had a simple synthesized ambulance sound, to create the audio space of an oncoming ambulance, you’d have to edit the sound to become louder and louder. You also need to make sure that the sound is coming from one direction to begin with, and slowly moving towards the center as it becomes louder.

On a more advanced level, there is obviously a lot more to creating the sounds of an ambulance driving by a speaker, because you would also need to edit in ground sounds, or sounds that speak to the context (such as other voices speaking, the rushing of cars on a road) as well as field sounds, or sounds that are in the atmosphere (such as wind, or light rain, etc).

(Ground and Field Sounds are mentioned in Leeuwen’s 1999 Speech, Music and Sound, and is a great way to think about the context and meaning of each sound depending on if it’s Ground, Field, or Figure (being the sound that is being actively listened to).)

Audacity is a fantastic beginner’s editing tool for audio editing; because sound editing can be a lot trickier and more nuanced than visual and graphic editing, having a simple workspace like Audacity means you can easily understand how to cut, copy, and mix in levels of sound. As a beginner in sound editing, I used Audacity for a podcast assignment in my undergrad classes. It was extremely simple to upload the audio materials that I’d collected and recorded, and the menus work according to many familiar programs such as Photoshop or MS Word, so buttons to export or to save are where you expect them. It would probably be simpler for beginners to use Audacity as their first tool to edit sounds, before uploading the edited sounds onto video editors such as Adobe Premier, in order to lessen the jumble of materials on the ‘cutting board’.